Daily Mirror



TOUGH times are sweeping the jobs world but there are still glimmers of hope out there.

When Laura Ashley went bust in the summer, 77 seamstress­es and cutters lost their jobs. But an adventurou­s rescue plan involving fashion industry experts and the Welsh Government saved them.

Ditching home furnishing­s, the stitchers have turned their talents to making 10,000 garments a week for ASOS.

That number is rising rapidly and now they need 30 new machinists. One of the elated team based in Newtown, Wales, is 21-year-old Jess Smith who was convinced her sewing dreams had been quashed by Covid.

What’s the job like?

There is a wonderful buzz in the sewing room since we started back in September. I spend the day at my machine, working on jumpsuits, trousers and dresses. It changes all the time.

We work a type of production line where the cutters get it all cut and then we each take on an element of the garment. I might be doing trouser legs one day and collars the next.

It took a while to change gear from making curtains but the skill set is the same so we all swapped easily enough. We are in this amazing new building too – they renovated a space in the historic Pryce Jones building, which makes coming to work even better.

How did you cope during lockdown?

It was really hard as we all had the feeling in March that our jobs were on the line. There was so much worry. By the end of July we knew Laura Ashley had folded so we figured it was the end of the road.

It felt awful and so sad. Some fellow seamstress­es had been there 35 years and one supervisor had worked there for 44 years.

I had this fear that finding the work I loved would be so difficult.

But in a matter of weeks we started to hear rumours there might be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. One month later we received the call to come back to work. I felt so relieved.

Are you the youngest in the team?

I am and most people imagine that seamstress­es are older women.

I am breaking the mould there and hope that when others learn how much I love the job and how satisfying it can be, they might be tempted to follow suit. Sewing is so popular these days, even on TV. I get a bit of teasing from my older colleagues – they always want to know what I’ve been up to.

How did you get into sewing?

My mum and dad paid for me to have some sewing classes when I was 14 and I just loved them.

I was into fashion and that allowed me to start making my own clothes and experiment­ing with ideas. I had been home educated and at 16 thought it made sense to get a diploma in profession­al curtain making. I really got into it and figured having employable skills would be really important. I was right – when I was 17 I started work with Laura Ashley 10 minutes down the road. I settled in straight away and enjoyed the work and atmosphere. It is really satisfying to know you’ve made something out of nothing.

Do you still sew in your spare time?

Most definitely. In my spare time my boyfriend’s mum and I make costumes for a local dance group when they go to competitio­ns. Bring on the bling, there can’t be enough frills and trims.

It is so therapeuti­c doing that type of sewing – I can let my imaginatio­n go wild. I still do a few bits and bobs for the family too.


Hearing of the lockdown loss of yet more skilled seamstress­es and cutters, Fashion Capital, a team of industry experts, decided to act.

They contacted the Welsh Government, used the Economy Futures Fund and ReAct wage subsidy programme, and the redundant workers were hired by social enterprise Fashion-Enter Limited (FEL).

“The sad demise of Laura Ashley could not be ignored,” says Jennifer Holloway, CEO of FEL.

“There’s much talk of skill shortages in our garment manufactur­ing sector. But talk is cheap – action is required to retain and save these precious skills.

“It’s absolutely fantastic we have kept this team together – they are like gold dust.”


Fashion-Enter Limited and Fashion Capital: fashioncap­ital.co.uk

 ??  ?? STITCH IN TIME Jess Smith back to work
STITCH IN TIME Jess Smith back to work

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